Main content area

On this day, 26th November 1855, Van Dieman’s Land became...

On this day, 26th November 1855, Van Dieman’s Land became known as Tasmania.

In 1642 Dutch explorer Abel Tasman discovered a previously unknown island on his voyage past the “Great South Land”, or “New Holland”, as the Dutch called Australia. He named it Van Diemen’s Land after the governor of Batavia. The Dutch, however, did not settle New Holland and Van Diemen’s Land, instead the British established a penal colony from 1788.

Fears that the French would colonise Van Diemen’s Land caused the British to establish a small settlement on the Derwent River in 1803, mostly convicts, and this settlement continued to receive convicts re-shipped from New South Wales or Norfolk Island up until 1812. Regular shipments of convicts directly from Britain began in 1818. A second penal colony was established at Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Van Diemen’s Land in 1822, and three years later, the British Government separated Van Dieman’s Land from New South Wales. Macquarie Harbour was eventually closed down, to be replaced by Port Arthur. Transportation of convicts to Van Diemen’s Land ended in 1853.

On 26 November 1855, the colony officially became known as Tasmania and elections for parliament were held the following year.

These artworks from the State Library of New South Wales depict Hobart and Van Dieman’s Land in the early years of the settlement.


[View of Hobart-Town, Van Dieman’s Land], 1827 / J. Lycett

[Panorama of Hobart c. 1825 - watercolour drawings by Augustus Earle]